Heavy metal poisoning in parrots

Heavy Metal Poisoning

I have received many calls over the years from people whose parrot died suddenly and for no apparent reason, leaving the owners baffled and distraught. After questioning them about the symptoms and the events leading up to the parrot’s death, it’s often clear that the most likely cause of death was heavy metal poisoning (HMP). Sadly, many people don’t know or understand the very real dangers that heavy metal poisoning (or heavy metal toxicity) poses to parrots.

HMP occurs when a parrot ingests a particle of heavy metal.  Once ingested it begins to poison the parrot, affecting the kidneys, blood cells, intestines and nervous system. This makes the parrot very ill and can cause rapid death.

The following metals are lethal to our parrots:

  • Brass
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Aluminum
  • Rust

Symptoms

HMP must always be taken very seriously. The smallest amount of metal will poison your parrot.  Symptoms may onset quickly and if left untreated, death is almost assured.

The main symptoms of HMP are:

  • Abnormal Droppings – bright green almost fluorescent in color, or blood in their stool
  • Lethargy
  • Shallow respiration – their tail will bob up and down with each breath
  • Regurgitation
  • Weakness
  • Falling of their perch
  • Dizziness, unable to stand up, can’t walk or fly
  • Diarrhea
  • Sudden feather picking, irritated behavior
  • Fluffing up their feathers to retain body heat and hunkering down close to the perch
  • Vomiting. This is different to regurgitation.  Parrots shake their heads vigorously when vomiting and food will often be found on the top of their head.
  • Head tilting abnormally
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased defecating
  • Often the parrot will just seem ‘unwell’ or not acting themselves
  • In severe cases seizures may occur.

Never hesitate to seek veterinary assistance

If your bird starts exhibiting any of the above symptoms, take them to a vet immediately. It’s not worth waiting to ‘see how everything goes’. Many birds have died needlessly because their owner was hesitant to seek veterinary advice. I always advise owners to take their parrot to the vet even if they seem mildly unwell. Remember that parrots hide illness extremely well and by the time they begin exhibiting symptoms, they are usually very sick.

Playing it safe at home

We can help keep our kids heavy metal free by adding the following natural chelating agents to their diet:

Note—the following foods are only to be used as a preventative measure only.

  • Fresh Cilantro (also called Coriander or Chinese Parsley)
  • Brazil nuts
  • Pumpkin seeds or Pipitas – helps remove zinc and magnesium
  • Sunflower seeds – not in excess
  • Activated charcoal – this can be crushed and sprinkled over your parrots wet food e.g. egg and biscuit mix once a week. We feed 2 – 3 grams per parrot.

Regularly adding these foods to your Ecky’s diet will help remove toxins that have built up in the system and keep the liver and kidneys in tip-top shape.

Cilantro (coriander or parsley) can be chopped finely and sprinkled over fruit and vegetables, mixed as a birdie pesto or even offered in a nice big bunch.

This is a short excerpt from our book The Ultimate Guide to Eclectus Parrots. This chapter  educates people about  the dangers of heavy metal poisoning.

Information included in this chapter:

  • Common heavy metals found around the home
  • Recognizing symptoms of heavy metal poisoning
  • Assisting your Eckie
  • Preparing for the vet
  • Assisting your vet
  • What to expect if your parrot has heavy metal poisoning
  • How to care for your Eckie post HMP
  • Keeping your Eckie safe in the home
  • Common unsafe parrot toys

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2 thoughts on “Heavy metal poisoning in parrots

  1. Be careful with your parrots water my partner and I did not realise our hot water system was rusting inside ,even when turning on the cold water there was still left over hot water in the pipes although it was not enough (rust heavy metal) to affect us as humans but was enough to kill our parrot . We ended up spending $1500 to keep him alive for his last few painful months but eventually he died.. Even out tap water contains fluorides ,chlorines which can be hazardous to your parrots health..

  2. That is terrible, I am so sorry to hear you lost your precious Eckie. Sadly, many parrot owners don’t understand the effects small particles of heavy metal can have on their parrots, especially if they are exposed to this over an extended period of time. We use filtered water for our Eckies. Many homes still contain copper pipes, trace elements can build up in your parrots system and potentially be lethal. Filtered water eliminates heavy metals and you can rest easy knowing your feathered kid’s water is safe. I hope that you & your partner are okay. What you went through is heartbreaking. You have our deepest condolences…